Chen Xin’s Work
and the Taijiquan Frame Described in It

Chen Xin’s Work: Chen Xin and his works

Chen Xin (1849-1929), also named Pinsan, 3rd son of Chen Zhongshen, the 16th-generation offspring of Chen family.
Chen Xin is a Gong Sheng in late Qing Dynasty (translator’s note: Gong Sheng is outstanding scholar who studied in state schools) and a famous Taiji theorist in the history of Chinese martial arts. Chen Xin’s works, in particular the thoughts and Taiji training frame in his works, reveal the deep philosophical system of Taijiquan and its exemplification of the profound Chinese traditional culture. His works provide an important basis for the future generations to study Taijiquan techniques and theories. To a certain extent, Chen Xin was the one who officially recorded the traditional Taijiquan frame, articulately stated the theory of Taijiquan, and brought it to a philosophical level. In this way, Taijiquan has truly become “the martial art of Tai Ji.”

Chen Xin took martial arts training with his father since he was a young child. He was extremely talented and well-versed in the essences of Taijiquan. Later he followed his father’s order to learn literature and became a master of both literature and martial arts. He made great efforts in writing books to elaborate the theory of Taijiquan that has been passed down in the Chen family. His works include Chen Family History (Chen Shi Jia Cheng, five volumes), Anyu Pallivion Poetry Collection (An Yu Xuan Shi Wen Ji, several volumes), Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan (Chen Shi Tai Ji Quan Tu Shuo, Original title before publication: Chen Shi Tai Ji Quan Tu Hua Jiang Yi, four volumes), Guidance for Taijiquan Beginners (Tai Ji Quan Yin Meng Ru Lu, one volume), and Form of Three Three Six (San San Liu Quan Pu), of which the most representative one is Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan.

It took twelve years, from 1908 to 1919, for the book Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan to be completed. Chen Xin was in his sixties when starting and reached his seventies by the time he finished the book. He had committed all possible efforts to the book during the twelve years no matter how the external conditions varied. He hand-copied and revised the book many times in person. There have been four copies of his handwritten scripts found, and each copy contains two hundred thousand to three hundred thousand Chinese characters.

The perseverance in his spirit was truly touching. The book adopts both text and graphics for illustration. In the book, Taijiquan techniques conforms to meridians while being accommodating; the theories are appropriately implied from Zhou Yi; theories and methodologies are written in a delicate and compressed fashion; and plain words are used to convey subtle meanings. The book states both plain and profound principles in a fine and crystal way. It is considered a classic martial arts work and a crucial milestone in the history of martial arts theories. For the past years, this book has been circulated in China and overseas. Translated copies have been published in Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe, and North America. It is indeed an immortal masterpiece and extraordinary work of Taijiquan, which inspires generation after generation to pursue the wonder of Taijiquan. (Reference: Chen Shi Tai Ji Quan Xiao Jia, Milkyway Publication (HK), by Chen Liqing, of the 19th generation of Chen family.)

Chen Xin’s Work: The Utility of Chen Xin’s Work

Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan is unique in several aspects: it uses both texts and graphics; the techniques and theories in it fit together smoothly; song formulas are used to teach the key information; and the principles are applicable extensively in Taijiquan and beyond.

It is not only a classic work for learners of Chen style Taijiquan, but also a crucial reference for Taijiquan enthusiasts of all other styles. The book has set a model for building up systematic theories and techniques of Taijiquan. Hence the theories and techniques of Taijiquan of the other styles may also be documented in light of this book.
The book is an important reference for researching the history of Taijiquan, a major textbook of cultural philosophy and boxing theories of Taijiquan, and a learner’s manual for practicing Taijiquan both physically and spiritually.

Chen Xin’s Work: Impacts of Chen Xin’s work

Among the many successors of Chen Xin (of the 16th generation), there emerged generations of masters, including Chen Ziming (descendant of Chen Wangting) of the 17th generation and Chen Zhaopi (also named Jipu, 1883 – 1982). Chen Ziming has written the book Chen’s Ancestral Taijiquan (Chen Shi Shi Chuan Tai Ji Quan Shu), published in 1932, which has been approved by both Central Martial Arts Academy and Henan Martial Arts Academy. Chen Jipu has also written the book Chen Style Taijiquan Consolidation (Chen Shi Tai Ji Quan Hui Zong). A significant amount of contents in both books are cited from Chen Xin’s work.

Chen Jipu, in the preface of his book, has written the followings: “Pinsan (translators note: another name of Chen Xin), a brother of my grandfather, was a Gong Sheng in Qing Dynasty. He was taught by master Yingyi (translator’s note: Chen Xin’s father) in person, and became highly accomplished in Taijiquan”; “I practiced Taijiquan since I was very young…as I just achieved a humble level, I had to be travelling for business and didn’t get much chance to focus on studying Taijiquan. 

By 1921 I returned to my hometown and continued with martial arts training. Thanks to the guidance from Yanxi, Pinsan and Fusheng, I was able to advance slightly. Though I still feel ashamed of not being able to reach a more profound level”; “… This spring (it was 1935 when the preface was written), I returned home to bring the book left behind by Pinsan to Beijing. The book will be published, so the study of Taijiquan, which has been passed down over hundred years in Chen family, won’t fall into oblivion.”
Nowadays, many of the famed Taiji masters cite significantly from the book Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan in their own works, which is to show their respect for the theories in Chen Xin’s book, as well as to better demonstrate their own interpretation and implications of the principles of Taijiquan.

Taijiquan frame in Chen Xin’s work:

All forms and movements documented in Chen Xin’s book Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan are “Small Frame” (Xiao Jia). As stated in preface of the book: “I am now, on one hand, very stressed by the fading away of both time and stable environment. On the other hand, I am worried that the core theories and techniques of Taijiquan might be diluted in prospective divisions and eventually get lost. 

Therefore, I made all my efforts in elaborating on the profound content of Taijiquan in plain words and attempted to reveal the essences in both broad and detailed scopes.” Scanning through the whole book, one cannot find the distinct “Big Frame” and “Small Frame.” It can be implied that, among all the frames known, the Taijiquan frame in Chen Xin’s book is the closest to the original form created by Chen Wangting. Chen Xin is the first one to summarize the system of theories and techniques of Taijiquan in written form. He also documented the training methods and principles. The book is a crucial link in the development of Taijiquan, indicating the pivotal role that Chen Xin’s frame, i.e. Small Frame, played in the development of Taijiquan.

It is believed that only one training frame has been created and passed down until the 14th generation of Chen family when two frames were observed – Big Frame and Small Frame. Chen Youben of the 14th generation was the key person who brought the training system of Taijiquan to a new era. Since then the number of training frames was increased to two.

Taijiquan frame in Chen Xin’s work:
The development of Chen Xin’s frame within Chen family

Chen Youben (1780-1858), also named Daosheng, inherited the expertise of his father and was highly accomplished in Taijiquan. The majority of Taijiquan masters during that time came from his teaching, among which the famous ones include Chen Zhongshen, Chen Jishen, and Chen Gengyun, etc.

According to Chen Family History (Chen Shi Jia Cheng), “Chen Gongzhao, Chen Youben’s father, inherited genuine Taiji techniques and cultivated numerous students who became famed masters. (There is also a legend that he had once fought an angry bull.) Chen Youben and his brother, Chen Youheng, were both Xiang Sheng (translator’s note: outstanding students selected to study in state schools) and studied Taijiquan. Chen Youben was the one who better mastered the essences of Taijiquan, and all the accomplishments of the following generations were attributed to his teaching, though he behaved very humbly as if his techniques were inferior. 

Almost all the famed masters in that period were taught by Chen Youben: Chen Qingping, Chen Youlun, Chen Fengzhang, Chen Sande, and Chen Tingdong all learned significantly from Youben. Chen Gengyun was also taught by him. Later on, Qingping taught Taijiquan to He Zhaoyuan, Zhang Kai, and Zhang Gaoshan from Zhaobao Town. Youlun taught Li Jingyuan and Zhang Dahong. ” Therefore, Chen Gongzhao and Chen Youben were both highly accomplished in Taijiquan, and great masters afterwards were often from their teachings. Chen Youben’s techniques are apparently authentic inheritance from his father.

Small Frame is unique in reconciling tough and soft energies, generating power through spiral movements, and alternating fast and slow paces. Yilu (the first form) exhibits more of the softness, whereas Erlu (the second form) stresses the toughness. Because of its comprehensive theory system and rigorous training method, Small Frame is praised as “Kung Fu Frame” and “Family Treasured Martial Arts” in Chen’s village (Chen Jia Gou). It is definitely not true that, as seen in some of the misleading articles, “Chen Youben, of the 14th generation, made changes on the basis of the original routine, gradually discarding certain difficult and powerful movements. The frame was as wide as the old frame, called the new frame (now called the small frame).”

Not until Chen Youben, of the 14th generation, taught his nephew Chen Gengyun was Big Frame born. Especially when Chen Fake, of the 17th generation, and Chen Zhaopi, of the 18th generation, were invited to teach Taijiquan in Beijing, Big Frame was broadly propagated and known to the world. 

Chen Youben, his brother Chen Youheng, and Youheng’s two sons, Chen Zhongshen (father of Chen Xin) and Chen Jishen, were all extraordinary in both literature and martial arts and well-recognized as Taijiquan masters in the history of Chen’s village. Chen Ziming, of the 17th generation, descendant of Taijiquan creator Chen Wangting, and descendants of Chen Wangqian (Wangting’s brother), including Chen Honglie, a student of Chen Chunyuan’s, all contributed to preserving the authentic family-passed techniques and the publication of Illustrated Explanations of Chen Family Taijiquan. Chen Kezhong and Chen Kedi, of the 18th generation, were both famous masters of Small Frame and all their descendants committed to Small Frame. Chen Liqing, daughter of Chen Honglie, and Chen Lixian, nephew of Chen Honglie, and all their descendants practice Small Frame and each of them has been highly accomplished.

Taijiquan frame in Chen Xin’s work:
The external development of Chen Xin’s frame

Since Chen Qingping of the 15th generation moved to Zhaobao Town, there appeared Zhaobao Frame. (Later on, He style Taijiquan and Hulei style showed up.) In fact, Chen Qingping is also the starting point of Wuu style Taijiquan. Wuu Shuxiang (1812-1880), from Yongnian, Hebei, first learned Big Frame routines of Yang style Taijiquan from his fellow Yang Luchan. Afterwards, to pursue his admiration of Chen Changxing, he went to Chen’s village and wanted to be a student of Chen Changxing. 

Chen Changxing then referred him to study Taijiquan from Chen Qingping. Chen Qingping’s Taijiquan directs energy in tight circles and transits energies through variable spiral paths. Wuu Shuxiang then derived Wuu style Taijiquan based on Big Frame of Yang style and Small Frame of Chen style. He passed his techniques to his nephew Li Yishe (1832-1892), who passed to Hao Weizhen (1849-1920). Hao Weizhen then taught his sons Yueru and Shaoru. Yueru took teaching Taijiquan as his profession, thus Wuu style Taijiquan was spread thereafter. 

Wuu style Taijiquan is special in its integrated and lithe movements, swift footwork, and compact but continuous power. Sun Lutang (1860-1930) learned Taijiquan from Hao Weizhen, and synthesized Xingyi, Taiji, and Bagua into Sun style Taijiquan. The unique frame of Sun style Taijiquan transits between opening and closing in an orderly manner, and steps widely with a high body posture. Sun’s written works include Study of Xingyiquan (Xing Yi Quan Xue) and Essences of Martial Arts (Quan Yi Shu Zhen).

In summary, Small Frame of Chen style Taijiquan has played a determinant role in the development of Taijiquan techniques. Moreover, successors of Small Frame have been upholding to the tradition of cultivating students in literature as well as martial arts. Therefore, they remained in the central position of theoretical studies of Taijiquan all the time. By adhering to the philosophy “Martial arts as a minor skill is in fact a manifest of the greater Dao,” they made Taijiquan, among the many martial arts, the best to represent Chinese traditional culture.